There is no doubt that students graduating in 2009 have faced the most challenging employment market for many years. With little improvement in the economic forecasts, the short to mid-term employment prospects for young graduate students seeking their first steps on the career ladder look bleak.
However, whilst the prospects for a significant number of graduating students is perhaps the most difficult it has been for some time, the news is not entirely bad. A survey conducted amongst the heads of careers services in UK universities and colleges paints a much more nuanced picture. For example, when asked whether more or less job vacancies were being advertised through their offices since the onset of the recession, 78% agreed that fewer jobs were being advertised, although there had been a change in the type of employers advertising graduate vacancies. First and foremost, fewer large national employers were seeking new graduates. Secondly, more small and medium-sized enterprises were using the services of university careers offices to find new employees; and finally, the recession had impacted on different employment sectors very differently, with declines in the number of vacancies being advertised by firms in banking, finance, law and construction and increases from public sector, social care, education and engineering employers.
One of the strategies most widely employed by students has been to ride out the storm and seek further study opportunities
In addition to the number and type of employers seeking graduating students changing because of the recession, the attitude of new graduates leaving university has also altered. Many have made efforts to make themselves more employable, either by using careers advisers to help improve their CV's or by seeking work experience through internships or volunteering. But perhaps one of the strategies most widely employed by students has been to ride out the storm and seek further study opportunities, either through vocational qualifications or, more commonly, Masters programs. A staggering 81% of UK university and college careers advisors have reported that they have met students considering further study instead of employment.
Such a picture is not confined to the UK. Grad schools and newspapers in countries all over the world have reported an increase in the current popularity of graduate study, particularly at the Masters level. The number of students registering to take the GMAT, an indicator of the intention to pursue graduate studies in business and related fields, has increased by 11.6%, and private education company Kaplan, part of the Washington Post Group, has reported interest in their business, law and graduate school preparation programs up by 45% since September 2008. In the USA, international applications to Masters programs have increased 6% since 2008 according to the Council of Graduate Schools, with individual graduate programs reporting more significant levels of growth. The George Washington University (GWU) has reported a current overall increase of 7% on Masters applications and a 3% increase in PhD program applications, with GWU's School of Business and the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy reporting Masters applications up by 21 and 20% respectively.
At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Upstate New York, the motivation for students to apply for grad school is clear. According to Thomas Tarantelli, director of Rensselaer's career development center, the increase in interest in Masters and other grad programs repeats a similar pattern to other recent recessions. A lot of the interest is attributable to the job market. It is looked at as a way to ride out the recession. They buy their way out of the recession and for many it's like an investment.
European universities too are preparing for a bumper enrolment period at the start of the new academic year. With more programs being offered in English throughout the European Union and tuition fees often set at a level below both the UK and the USA, Masters level programs offer a great opportunity for many cost-conscious students to develop additional subject-specific skills without having to risk the recession-blighted job market. Frida Hallqvist, admissions specialist at Sweden's Malmö University, has seen a significant rise in international Masters applications since the financial crisis. We have far more applications this year than ever before, with more than 3,000 received for our international programs. As our programs don't have tuition fees, there is certainly a case that students are seeking greater value for money.